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by Natasha Cooper
Pocket Books, June 2005
352 pages
ISBN: 0743449878

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's a steamy summer in London and everyone is away on holiday. Even George, barrister Trish Maguire's romantic partner, has taken off with her half-brother for some fun in Australia, leaving Trish behind to finish the litigation of a class action suit brought by a group of small farmers against one of the biggest food chains in England.

It seems that the corporation has been forcing small agricultural producers out of business by offering them lucrative verbal contracts that cause them to lay out their savings to ramp up production, but when the much-delayed written documents finally arrive, the farmers realize that the prices they're being offered are so low as to drive them out of business. Trish and her firm have taken the case on a contingency basis, so if they don't win, they don't get paid.

During the trial, Trish eats a sausage dinner at her friend Caro Lyalt's home and becomes ill as a result. She manages to soldier on the next day, but soon discovers that Caro herself is in the hospital, gravely sick from the tainted sausages.

Trish asks Will Applewood, one of the plaintiffs in the class action and a former meat supplier himself, to help her find out where the sausages came from. His own bitterness against the food industry and his infatuation with Trish fuel a relentless investigation that goes far deeper than simply identifying the processing plant. Before it's over, Trish, with Will's help, will solve the murder of a journalist who was writing an expose on the meat processing industry.

As if all that weren't enough to keep a girl busy, with Caro battling for her life in the hospital, Trish is asked to help with a troubling case of child abuse involving a young girl who can't or won't speak. Trish must find a way to earn the child's trust in time to prevent her return to her abusive stepfather.

Cooper does a dazzling job of balancing these competing threads while escalating the narrative tension. She's done a lot of research for KEEP ME ALIVE, enough to give any sane person cause to ponder deeply the implications for their own personal food supply. But don't worry, the information invigorates the narrative and is always in service of the story. This is one tense ride, never a lecture. It's unusual to find an urban novel about the hardships of the modern farmer, and I found the subject riveting.

KEEP ME ALIVE is as intelligent as it is gripping. Cooper's characterizations and her insight into the motivations of her characters are excellent, especially when it comes to Trish, who is smart, sympathetic and compassionate even while she is flirting herself silly with her head of chambers. The finely-drawn details about the role of a barrister in the British courts add a rich layer of interest to this already satisfying story.

The faint of heart and weak of stomach might want to give this book a pass, but for those with nerve enough to follow Trish through the dark and grisly parts, the rewards are great.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, May 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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